Christian Vande Velde's 2006 Tour de France: an analysis using TSS and the Performance Manager Chart

Imagine that everyday for the past 2 weeks as you head off to work you feel more tired than the day before. Each day at work has been relentless and its only going to get worse because next week is off the hook. You have a big project at work and each day is more stressful than the one before. You'd like to crack but your career depends on your performance the next week. To make the pressure even more intense, your boss is demanding more and more each day despite the fact that he sees you breaking down right before his eyes.

Senior VP's preparing for annual board meetings may find this all too real, but it is actually a description of a professional cyclist racing in the Tour de France. The "drama" at the Tour de France is enormous and the physiological and psychological stress directly impacts performance.

How much psychological stress does an athlete experience during the Tour de France? That is hard to tell and even more difficult to measure. However, it is possible to measure is the amount of physiological stress a rider endures in the biggest bike race in the world. From Christian Vande Velde's 2006 Tour de France SRM data, one may analyze and quantitate how hard each stage was, how his cumulative training load affects his performance and the way he feels while he's going about it. This is all possible with the SRM data using the metrics Training Stress Score (TSS) & Chronic Training Load (CTL).

Using Power Based Metrics to Quantitate Tour de France stress In the 2006 Tour de France, CSC rider Christian Vande Velde and made public the first nine stages of his SRM data.

T = Time Trial
F = Flat, < 13k uphill, change in altitude < 800m, scattered hills
M = Mountainous, > 13k uphill, change in altitude > 800m, sustained climbing >10 minutes

Sleuthing out Intensity Factor:
Once the race entered the Pyrenees on stage 10, it is assumed that the CSC mechanics took the SRM off and no more data was available. In any case, this is all that was made public.

Using Intensity Factor (IF) from CvV's data in the first nine stages, IF was estimated for the remaining 11 stages using official finishing time, terrain, race reports & tactics. Official race time x eIF^2 = TSS used for the graph above.

For more details on Intensity Factor calculations see the Excel sheet here.

Most TSS values for the flat stages fell between 125 - 225 with the exception of the initial super aggressive sprinter's stages 2 & 3. However for the Pyrenean stages (10 & 11) and Alp stages (15-17) TSS's increased dramatically between 300 - 350.

For those of us who have gone out for an epic ride with TSS's close to 300, suffice it to say the Alps in 2006 were epic for all the riders in the Tour de France. Not only was each day epic but each day occurred back to back to back. And that was beginning on stage 15!

In addition to all the traditional hours, kilometers, and # of clif bars eaten, CvV racked up a total TdF TSS of 4,711. That's more in 3 weeks than most amateur cyclists use to call their off season "base".

Using the Performance Manager Chart to understand the cumulative training load during the Tour de France
While the chart above details the individual stages, what really is happening to CvV and all the other Tour riders? Simply put they are getting tired! Real tired. Like if their job did not depend on finishing the race, they wouldn't be doing this tired. Can't sleep tired, irritable type of tired and ready to crack kind of tired.

Using a power based impulse-response performance model developed by Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D and others, it is possible to measure the cumulative training load and athlete incurs day after day after day with the metric CTL. CTL is calculated using TSS and is described in the previous link.

If you are reading this, chances are that you are familiar with TSTWKT or the more official title the Performance Manger Chart. Using the PMC and TSS from Christian's TdF SRM data it is possible to plot his CTL during the Tour and as well as his ATL and TSB.

Hypothetically speaking
The majority of Christian's 2006 training load prior to the TdF came from his racing program: Paris-Nice, Tour of Luxembourg (which he won), and the Tour de Suisse. In-between I assumed that he rested appropriately and trained accordingly. In other words I creatively filled in TSS values for what I would have done as a rider or as CvV's trainer/coach/directeur.

In the graph above one may see how the Tour carries the largest, most continuous training load of any race or training block all year. CvV's CTL rises from 110 at the start of the Tour to 150 (!) in the Alps before the peloton reaches the Champs-Elysees. Furthermore his acute training load (aka how whacked he feels) rises dramatically in the Pyrenees and then off the charts for the 3 days in the Alps. Yee-ouch!

To put racing the Tour into perspective for any PMC user, how many of you out there have trained meaningfully when your ATL was > 130? I for one have on only a few super motivated training blocks and few and far between stage races. For that matter, who out there has even achieved a CTL of 120 let alone 150? Not only does it take an incredible amount of time but the chances that you will be forced to rest before you come close are high.

Most cat 1's are lucky to hit a CTL of 110 - 130. Some domestic pro's may hit the 140's but aside from the ultra endurance crowd, you'd be hard pressed to find anybody outside of a Pro Tour rider hitting such numbers. And not only hitting but putting out high quality, Tour de France level, power outputs while carrying such a large training load. Athletes cannot simply roll out their door and bang out training volume like this.

Notice in the chart above, how the Tour of Luxembourg prepares Vande Velde for the Tour de Suisse, and the Tour de Suisse prepares him for the Tour de France. This is a parallel path to many TdF riders that race the Dauphine -- it is virtually impossible to prepare for the Tour without either of the two well timed "baby tours". There's just not enough motivation in the most determined athlete to go out day after day to flog yourself at such high quality power outputs. Therefore, the best way to prepare and train for the Tour de France is to race the Dauphine or the Td Suisse.

That says alot about using races to prepare for races at the elite level but the same principle holds for amateur cyclists. Do you want to do well in a certain stage race? Try finding a slightly shorter or equivalent length preparatory stage race to use for training, ideally one to three weeks beforehand.

With such a large dose of racing and stress to bear, the model gives meaning to why it takes years to perform well in the Tour. One can even see why just finishing is a huge accomplishment.

The exercise of quantitating Christian Vande Velde's 2006 Tour de France, even hypothetically, gives meaning to the upper limits of the human body. The TdF's training load should put your own training volume into perspective as you try to reach your own performance goals.

While you are thinking about that here we go into the 3rd week of the Tour, and the all important time trial is looming ahead. We know from CvV's model in 2006 that the riders are already under a huge amount of stress and there is no way around the Pyrenees.

Copyright © 2007 FasCat Coaching - all rights reserved.

Frank is a full time USA Cycling Elite (Level 1) certified coach and assistant directeur sportif to the US National Women's Team. If you need help analyzing your training and race power files or want to take your performance to the next level, contact Frank at 

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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